PR in Sports

Looking at the World of Sports from a PR Perspecitve

Is Gilbert Arenas Paying too Much of a Price?

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David Stern is showing fans, media and players they will be safe in NBA arenas

I owe Mike Schaffer, who runs #SportsPRChat on Twitter, a big thanks. I began participating in the chats last week, and not only are the they a great forum to connect with other sports and PR professionals, but they’re also a great source of blog ideas! With that said, another great topic was brought up last week, whether or not the NBA, fans and media are making too big a deal of the Washington Wizards Gilbert Arenas bringing a gun into the locker room.

For those living under a rock, Arenas pleaded guilty to a felony gun charge for bringing an unregistered gun into the Washington Wizards locker room. Since the initial charge, Arenas has been suspended indefinitely by the NBA, been dropped by Adidas and most likely will lose the remaining $80 million he’s still owed by the Wizards.

So, between a potential short jail stint, losing $147,208 every time the Wizards step on the court and getting killed in the media and court of public opinion, is Arenas paying too much of a price, especially considering the gun wasn’t loaded and it seemed to be more of a joke than anything else?

I say absolutely not! As someone that spent over four years working in an NBA locker room almost daily, I can attest that the phrase “the locker room is a sacred place” is accurate. What some don’t always realize is that in professional sports it’s not just the players and coaches on the inside. There’s media, team PR, marketing and community relations staff, equipment staff and trainers as well as ball boys who often times are high school kids or younger.

The Arenas situation has me wondering, maybe I’ve been in a locker room that had guns inside. It’s definitely a possibility, and I can tell you I would have been very uncomfortable had I known at the time. The ball boy thing makes this especially bad in my opinion though.

During the course of a game night it’s not uncommon for a player to have a ball boy go into his personal locker. Usually it’s something like getting money for a post-game food run. But regardless of the reason, it could have been a young ball boy that found the gun Arenas’ locker! Loaded or not, the possibility of bad outcomes are endless, and Arenas definitely broke a sacred trust.

From my personal and PR perspective, the NBA, media and sponsors are handling this situation just fine. That’s not to say Arenas doesn’t deserve a second chance, but David Stern bringing down the hammer shows media, team personnel and Arenas’ peers they will be safe in the locker room. It shows fans and sponsors the NBA is taking this issue extremely seriously.

So kudos to Stern, the Wizards and media who are holding Arenas accountable. Here’s to also hoping Arenas has learned a lesson and is able to resurrect his career.

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Written by Brian Gleason

January 17, 2010 at 11:52 pm

Who Will be the First Steroid User Elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame?

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Mcgwire testifying before congress in 2005

I’m not interested in getting into how Mark McGwire handled the steroids issue, and his revelation that he did indeed use PED’s, we all know this has been a complete disaster for Big Mac. He lied in front of congress and he’s basically been a pariah ever since. Now he’s returning to baseball as the St. Louis Cardinals hitting coach and was almost forced to admit his wrong doings, and even in doing so, is saying steroids did not help him hit homeruns.

I do think an interesting question is how McGwire’s admission affects the Baseball Hall of Fame. At some point there will be steroid users recognized in the Hall of Fame, and someone will be the first to get in. But who that player will be is up for debate.

Shortly after McGwire’s admission I participated in #SportsPRChat, a chat session on Twitter run by Mike Schaffer (@MikeSchaffer) Director of Social Media at Brotman-Winter Fried Communications and author of The Buzz by Mike Schaffer. During Monday’s chat I had a discussion with Matt LaCasse (@MattLaCasse) about who the first steroid user in the Baseball Hall of Fame will be?

LaCasse feels McGwire will make that claim, due to being likable, finally coming clean and that being “the face” of the steroid era makes him the right candidate. He might be right, McGwire certainly has time on his side as he’s eligible (he has seven years left on the ballot) and now has a day-to-day job in baseball where he can mend fences with sportswriters, the ones who actually do the voting. But, I’m not so sure “the face” of the steroid era being the first in the Hall of Fame is such a good thing for baseball.

I argued that from a PR perspective baseball would be better off with someone like Andy Pettitte. Pettitte seems to have created the blueprint for getting past the steroid issue. When baseball’s Mitchell Report outed him as an offender, Pettitte immediately faced the music by holding a press conference.

To this day he remains a respected player and citizen in the game. I don’t recall steroids being mentioned once during his two World Series starts in 2009. In contrast, we’ve seen guys like McGwire, Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds deny their use of PED’s for years, and as a result be banished from the game for the most part.

A player like Pettitte going in first would minimize the negative PR at the time of his induction, and minimize the negative press when his peers finally enter. Yes, there would still be plenty of steroid stories when McGwire, Bonds, Clemens etc. go in, but it would definitely be tempered a bit with an admitted user already in. A strike against Pettitte is that he hasn’t retired yet, so time is not on his side, as we have to wait at least six years before he’s eligible.

No matter how it plays out, I think it’s an interesting question. So, who do you think will be the first steroid user inducted into the Hall of Fame and who would be best for baseball?

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Written by Brian Gleason

January 12, 2010 at 1:14 am

5 Social Media Tips for Professional Athletes

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Social media exploded into the mainstream in 2009, nearly everyone now has a Twitter account and Facebook profile, and this trend was seen in no greater place than the world of sports. The presence of professional athletes in social media has almost been unmatched in the entertainment/celebrity world, but this hasn’t come without a price and some lessons learned the hard way.

Washington Wizards guard Gilbert Arenas had fans on Twitter begging him to stop tweeting about his bringing an unloaded gun into the Wizards locker room. Former Chiefs running back Larry Johnson (@ToonIcon) was cut by the team partly due to criticizing his coach via Twitter. And, just last week, Eagles wide receiver DeSean Jackson (@DzzJackson22) was caught talking trash to the Dallas Cowboys using Twitter. Arenas has since taken down his Twitter page and both Johnson and Jackson have made theirs private, but those are just a few of the many examples of the social media mishaps from athletes over the last year.

Some have called for athletes to stay away from Twitter and Facebook, but that’s crazy. Those same members of the media asking athletes to stay away from Twitter wouldn’t call for athletes to stop dealing with traditional media merely because they said the wrong thing during an interview or press conference, right? Social media isn’t the issue, the issue is being smarter in how social media is used.

With that said, below are five social media tips for professional athletes:

1) Behind the Scenes – In my experience in public relations and marketing with athletes and celebrities, I’ve found that the most popular features are the behind the scenes features. Fans love photos from the locker room or updates from road trips, features that traditional media don’t always have access too. For the most part, fans would rather get their hard news from beat writers or ESPN. Athletes should be posting colorful insights to their everyday lives. Thoughts on a movie, photos of boarding the team plane, but not sharing intimate team and personal details.

Example: Celtics forward Shelden Williams (@SheldenWilliams) and his wife Sparks forward Candice Parker (@Candace_Parker) posted photos of pumpkins they were carving over Halloween and asked fans to vote on whose was better. They received plenty of response from fans, while giving insight into their lives without airing the dirty laundry.

2) Fan Engagement – Athletes and celebrities can get away with not following or directly engaging with fans in social media, but why? What’s the fun in just sending out messages, but not interacting with anyone? Athletes have plenty of demands on their time, but will gain so much more by finding time to follow-back and directly communicate with fans. Find a few hours a week on the team plane, in the hotel or when at home relaxing, the payoff will be endless both professionally and personally.

Example: Check out Shaquille O’Neal’s Twitter page (@The_Real_Shaq) and you’ll see more @replies than anything else. He’s listening to his fans and replying to them on a regular basis, this is how you maximize your social media interaction. In the past he’s also given fans a location of where he is and then handed out free tickets to the first ones to find him in public. Brilliant, although with an assist to Digital Royalty!

3) Where’s the Beef? – I’m not sure where it is, but I know it shouldn’t be in your social media plan. Do not air your beef with coaches, teammates, opponents, fans or anyone else. Do not respond to slights from members of the media, post bulletin board material or address legal issues.  We’ve seen the results from Arenas, Johnson, Jackson and many many more.

Example: Too many to count!

4) Develop a Comprehensive Plan – An athletes social media plan should be far more than a Twitter account and Facebook Page. Professional athletes should all have a main website where they host most of their content, including news, events and community outreach. Links to the main website should be included in all social media activity and links to follow, friend and subscribe should be throughout the main site as well. Fans need to be able to find all their online actives throughout each interaction.

Example: Jets defensive back Kerry Rhodes has a phenomenal social media plan. Rhodes website serves as the main hub. The site includes links to all of his social media activity and hosts his most important news, including, off the field activities, plenty of video and information on his charitable foundation. A quick look at Rhodes Twitter page (@kerryrhodes) also shows that he’s driving followers back to his site (social media hub) while also including links to his Facebook Page and channel.

5) Get Trained – Last, but maybe most important, get trained! Most professional leagues require traditional media training at the beginning of each season. If social media training isn’t a part of that session, then athletes should ask their team PR people, agent or hire a consultant themselves, but similar to traditional media training, social media training is imperative.  When an athlete makes a mistep with traditional media they can usually find a way out or spin it, when screwing up with social media it’s much more difficult to shift blame and spin because it’s their own words or videos front and center.

Hopefully those tips help, their by no means the only tips and can really be applied to anyone delving into social media, but athletes are definitely in dire need of some social media assistance. Here’s to hoping even more athletes start participating in the conversation, but the right way!

Have any more social media tips, I’d love to hear them in the comments!

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Which Thanksgiving Weekend Sports are you Most Excited to Watch?

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We’ve had a lot of focus lately on the PR side the last few posts, so with Thanksgiving on Thursday, I though we’d swing back to the straight sports side of things. Thanksgiving Day is pretty much strictly turkey and NFL, but the rest of the weekend has plenty of other options to keep you on the couch and out of the malls. To go along with a full slate of NFL games on Turkey Day, we have College Baskeball FeastWeek, big rivalry games in college football and to wrap up the sports weekend a marquee Monday Night Football match-up.

As usual the NFL kicks things off on Thursday afternoon. We have Green Bay at Detroit, Oakland at Dallas and the nightcap with the Giants traveling to Denver on the NFL network. Not the greatest lineup, but hey, its tradition and we love it.

FeastWeek in college basketball is also quickly becoming a tradition. The weekend includes a host of tournaments across the country with some of the top teams in college basketball getting early season tests. The lineup includes the NIT Season Tip-Off semifinals and finals featuring Duke and UConn, the 76 Classic featuring Butler, West Virginia and Minnesota and the Old Spice Classic featuring Michigan, Xavier and Marquette.

The weekends slate of college football games includes some of the top teams in the country looking to avoid the late season slip-up against their main rivals. The top games include #1 Florida hosting Florida State, #2 Alabama heading to Auburn, #9 Pittsburgh traveling down Rt.70 to take on West Virginia and a nice mid-major match-up between #19 BYU and #21 Utah.

Last but not least we have a huge Monday Night Football game when the New England Patriots, the last team to undefeated during the regular season, travels to New Orleans to face the Saints, one of two remaining unbeaten teams in the NFL.

Think you can keep up with that schedule while the rest of the suckers fight the crowds at the mall? So all I want to know now is, which Thanksgiving Weekend sports are you most excited to watch?

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Written by Brian Gleason

November 24, 2009 at 11:13 pm

Suspension of Clippers Broadcasting Team Garners More Publicity than the Cause

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Clippers Broadcasters Ralph Lawler and Michael Smith

I know what you’re thinking, if a tree falls in the forest and nobody hears it, did it actually make a sound? Well, apparently there is someone out there that actually watches the Los Angeles Clippers play basketball, and he’s not happy with the Clippers broadcasting duo of Ralph Lawler and Michael Smith.

Arya Towfighi, a Clippers season-ticket holder of Iranian decent, was offended over an exchange the duo had when the Clippers visited the Memphis Grizzlies last Wednesday. The exchange came towards the end of the game when Hamed Haddadi, the first Iranian-born player in the NBA, entered the game. According to the L.A. Times, Lawler and Smith had the following exchange.

Smith: Look who’s in

Lawler: Hamed Haddadi. Where’s he from?

Smith: He’s the first Iranian to play in the NBA. (Smith pronounced Iranian as “Eye-ranian,” a pronunciation that offended the viewer who complained.)

Lawler: There aren’t any Iranian players in the NBA. (repeating Smith’s mispronunciation.)

Smith: He’s the only one.

Lawler: He’s from Iran?

Smith: I guess so.”

Lawler: That Iran?

Smith: Yes.

Lawler: The real Iran?

Smith: Yes.

Lawler: Wow. Haddadi that’s H-A-D-D-A-D-I.

Smith: You’re sure it’s not Borat’s older brother?

Smith: If they ever make a movie about Haddadi, I’m going to get Sacha Baron Cohen to play the part.

Lawler: Here’s Haddadi. Nice little back-door pass. I guess those Iranians can pass the ball.

Smith: Especially the post players.

Lawler: I don’t know about their guards.

Not a shining moment from Lawler and Smith, no question about that. But according to the L.A. Times article, Towfighi’s e-mail was the only complaint received by Fox Sports Prime Ticket. I know, I know, there’s a chance that was 100% of the viewing audience. As a result, the station suspended Lawler and Smith from calling the Clippers next game last Friday against the Denver Nuggets.

The suspension resulted in multiple stories from the L.A. Times, a headline on and articles from virtually every other major sports outlet. It appears Fox Sports Prime Ticket drew far greater attention for the suspension than the actual comments made by Lawler and Smith.

Lawler is one of the most respected play-by-play men in the NBA and hasn’t missed a broadcast in 25 years. That doesn’t excuse the comments, but let’s also keep in mind that there was only that one complaint logged. Maybe an in-person apology to Towfighi and an on-air mention might have served the purpose without drawing the extra negative attention.

Keeping in mind that harsh punishments are often expected from offensive comments, my question to PR people and sports fans is. Should organizations be looking to minimize greater negative publicity from the punishment when disciplining broadcasters or company spokespeople for offensive public comments?

Update: Brian Cuban, brother of Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, has a slightly different take on this issue on his blog The Cuban Revolution.

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Written by Brian Gleason

November 23, 2009 at 12:17 am

Three Items for the Sports PR Person to Keep Handy

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The Sharpie is a must-have for any Sports PR Pro

One of my favorite PR/Social Media blogs is LAF, penned by PR Pro Lauren Fernandez. She has some amazing insight into the world of PR and Social Media, and her most recent post “What’s In Your PR Handbag/Briefcase” is no different. In the post, Fernandez lists three must-haves for every PR person’s handbag or briefcase.

What really stood out to me was that her must-haves were ordinary, and I mean that in a good way. They were simple items, but they were items you’ll be glad to have on-hand and kick yourself if you don’t.

After reading the post and some of the comments left by readers, it got me thinking. PR is PR, but there are differences depending on the industry, especially in the sports and/or entertainment world. So, I decided I wanted to make a quick list of a few items that will score points for the sports PR person.

Three Items the Sports PR Person Should Always Have on Hand

1. Sharpie – Of course, being at an event with an athlete means autograph seekers, but surprisingly, most of them don’t come armed with their own sharpie. Turning down a little kid with a card or ball in hand is not the position you want your athlete to be in. Yes, they’ll look bad, but you know what? It’s your fault. Best move is to always have 3-5 Sharpies in your pocket or bag (the person doing the signing will definitely give a few away without realizing it). Disclaimer: Also be prepared to turn the autograph seekers away when it’s become too much for the athlete, that’s ok too.

2. Water – Having water on hand seems like a minute detail, but it can help keep an athlete comfortable, and in turn engaged, when you have them doing a press conference followed by one-on-one’s with TV stations, columnists, radio stations and beat writers. Is it a huge deal not to have a bottle handy? Probably not. But, it’s a little thing that can help build/strengthen a relationship when you hand over a bottle without even being asked.

3. Media Guide – This definitely applies more to the sports PR person working directly for a team, especially if it’s post-game or a  press conference to announce a new player or coach. Nothing is worse, for you or the writer, when they need stats ASAP to meet a deadline, and you don’t have them handy. Sounds archaic in this day and age of instant information, but believe it or not, a lot of sports writers still prefer an actual media guide to minimizing browsers while trying to look up stats and finish a story.

Seems pretty basic, but these items will show you’re on your game. So, what do you like to have handy that is vital for a PR Pro in the sports world?

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Written by Brian Gleason

November 18, 2009 at 12:44 am

Can Social Media Change the “One and Done” Rule?

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Harrison Barnes announced his college choice via Skype

Professional athletes have entered the realm of social media in full force. The smart ones are joining sites like Twitter, creating Facebook Pages and enhancing their own websites in an effort to build their personal brand and market themselves. But, pro athletes aren’t the only athletes working on their personal brand using this exploding form of personalized communication.

The top high school athletes in the country are popping up all over Twitter, Facebook and more. Kyrie Irving, the 9th ranked basketball player in the class of 2010 according, played out much of his recruitment on Twitter, and he’s not the only one. It’s also common place for the top high school basketball and football players to announce their college of choice on ESPNU.

So, it wasn’t a surprise when the #1 ranked basketball player in the country used an innovative online tool to announce his college of choice Friday evening. Harrison Barnes wanted to do something nobody had done before.

In the middle of his press conference on ESPNU, Barnes said he would be attending the school “of the coach I’m about to Skype”, then dramatically stood up from the podium and walked over to a laptop to  use the video messaging service Skype, to video conference North Carolina Coach Roy Williams.

The result of this new movement? The “Social Media Athlete”.

The “Social Media Athlete” is communicating with fans on a personal, sometimes one-on-one level. Social media isn’t solely responsible for more polished 18 year-old athletes. This movement began years ago, but direct communication tools like Twitter, Facebook and Skype have young athletes not only crafting their message, but developing entire recruitment campaigns, thus beginning to build their personal brand as early as high school.

Seriously, watch the video of the Barnes news conference. Before he “Skyped” Coach Williams, Barnes individually thanked the media outlets that covered his recruitment in a carefully crafted speech.  That’s right, he thanked the media individually. PR folks and media can attest, that’s virtually unheard of. Barnes seemed closer to what we’ll expect out of LeBron James when he announces his destination next summer, than a high school kid announcing a college. Not that LeBron will thank the media!

This focus on personal branding by athletes at much earlier ages makes sense though. The top high school players and their handlers see the potential and realize they’ll be in the NBA after just one year of college. But, what will the effect be?

Can the “Social Media Athlete” be a catalyst for eliminating the NBA rule that mandates players be one year out of high school before they can enter the draft?

It’s a possibility. Let’s be real, that rule isn’t about academics or physical development, it’s about marketing. Kevin Garnett and Kobe Bryant were fine, but when 5-6 high school players a year began going straight to the NBA, fans didn’t know who they were, so they weren’t marketable. Now, with the “Social Media Athlete” these players are becoming household names at earlier ages.

The question though, is this focus on personal branding at such a young age a good thing? Probably not. But, I’m sure one person out there is loving it. I’m looking at you David Stern!

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Written by Brian Gleason

November 16, 2009 at 12:03 am

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